Choo! Choo! Your Way To The Slopes

Amtrak Truckee Winter Ski Train

Amtrak train heading Eastbound in snow Image taken by: Loco Steve

If you haven’t heard, the ski train from the newly renovated station in downtown Denver to Winter Park has started up again… or as my uncle used to say, “Vin-tah Pahk.” Images of Bing Crosby & Danny Kaye hopping onto a train in the movie “White Christmas” flash through my mind. The idea of getting away from stop-and-go traffic and instead traveling on an iron horse just sounds so magical. So, what are America’s best ski resorts to visit by train for a long weekend?

Smugglers’ Notch (Vermont)

New York (Penn Station) – Essex Junction $119 round trip

11:33 am arrives at 8:08 pm

9:54 am arrives at 6:25 pm

Torchlight Parade Smugglers Notch - America's best ski resorts by train
Torchlight Parade at Smugglers Notch Ski Resort Image taken by: Everett Freeman

The East Coast has one of the most extensive rail networks in North America. From New York, Boston, Philly or even DC, you can get to multiple ski resorts via locomotive. One of the most magical on the list is Smugglers’ Notch. Laying across three distinctive mountains (Morse, Madonna, & Sterling) and having trail names such as “Rum Runner,” “Hangman’s Noose,” and “The Black Snake” all derived from smugglers who frequented Smugglers Notch during the War of 1812, it has a deep history AND amazing skiing to go with it. If you do stay at the resort, transfers can be arranged from the train station in Essex Junction to your lodging. At the resort, guests can easily go car-free. A complimentary on-call shuttle service operates within the Resort Village, while the Mountain Shuttle loops between the Village and the upper mountain base area.

Stevens Pass/Mission Ridge

Seattle – Leavenworth $78 round-trip

Leaves at 4:40 pm and arrives at 8:00 pm

Leaves at 6:08 am and arrives at 10:25 am

View of Stevens Pass Ski Resort Washington America's best ski resorts by train
Stevens Pass Ski Resort – Image taken by: Tom Nanevicz

Following the original route of the Great Northern Railroad, the route winds its way through the towns of Gold Bar, Index and Baring. Near the 4,000 foot summit, you’ll travel into the Cascade Tunnel. It’s the second longest in North America! Before you know it, you’ll arrive in the beautiful Bavarian town of Leavenworth and the new Icicle station. There is no place like Leavenworth during the Christmas season. The town is dressed-to-the-hilt for the holidays. Expect to see chestnuts roasting on an open fire, carolers strolling the streets, food booths, sleigh rides, local crafts, outdoor entertainment and more. At dusk, everyone gathers to sing “Silent Night” and witness the lighting of the village.

If that wasn’t enough, you also have two ski resorts to check out: Stevens Pass and Mission Ridge. With Stevens Pass averaging 460″ of snowfall & covering 1,125 acres of skiable terrain across two mountains, there’s a lot of options to get some powder skiing in. If you’re looking for Colorado-like skiing, head to Mission Ridge. Located on the east side of the Cascades, the snow is drier, and with over 300 days of sunshine, you’ll be guaranteed to get your fix of Vitamin D. While staying in Leavenworth, don’t forget to arrange your spot on the local shuttle to get to/from the ski resort – it’s as easy as that.

Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows / Northstar California

San Francisco to North Lake Tahoe (via Truckee) – $78 round trip

9:10 am arrives at 2:38 pm

9:37 am arrives at 4:10 pm

Northstar Ski Resort from a distance America's best ski resorts by train
View from top of Mount Lincoln. The backside of Northstar California is in the distance. Image taken by: Boarder2k

The transcontinental railroad revolutionized the settlement and economy of the American West, connecting the eastern railroad network via Omaha all the way to the seaports in Oakland/San Francisco. To make the final journey over the Sierra Nevada, Truckee’s rail yard was established as the place to get additional engines to help push over the summit. The extra power may no longer be needed, but it’s still used as a gateway to all the ski resorts in North Lake Tahoe. Northstar California is the closest resort to the train station, and one of 12 downhill ski resorts in the region.  With over 3,000 acres & averaging 300″+ a year, it’s a great option when taking the rails from the Bay Area. And, there’s a ton of affordable shuttles from downtown Truckee to each of the ski resorts in the region.

Winter Park

Denver (Union Station) – $98 round trip

7:00 am arrives at 9:00 am

4:30 pm arrives at 6:40 pm

Snowy mountain peak Winter Park Resort - America's best ski resorts by train
Winter Park Ski Resort – Image taken by: Warren Kunish

The oldest “Ski Train” may be on the East Coast, but Colorado has a lot of history when it comes to ski trains. One of the longest running was the route to Winter Park from 1940 until the 2008-09 season. Reinstituted a few years ago, the engine climbs over 3,960 feet across 56 miles to the Moffat Tunnel finally arriving at the Winter Park Station. Winter Park itself is also the longest running resort in Colorado with over 3,000 acres, 29 feet of snowfall, and an uphill capacity of 40,000 riders per hour. This will help you spend more time on the slopes and less waiting in line. The ski train begins its 2020 season on January 10th and runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 

Whitefish

Chicago, Twin Cities, Spokane, Seattle

Varies

Downtown Whitefish Mountain Resort Montana Snowboard Travel Guide
Central Ave in Whitefish Montana – Photo by: Local Freshies®

Last, but not in any of the way the least, is the classic train ride to Whitefish Mountain Resort. The Amtrak line known as the Empire Builder begins its journey in Chicago traveling through Minneapolis/St. Paul and finishing up in Seattle. This route provides access to the world class ski area known as Whitefish Mountain Resort (also still called Big Mountain by many.) In addition, the quaint ski town of Whitefish provides a “Snowbus” free of charge (they accept donations of course) that can shuttle you from Whitefish up to Big Mountain. Besides being one of our favorite ski towns in North America, the resort is blanketed with over 300 inches of snow across its 3,000 acres.

Even if the golden era of ski trains has passed, there are still resorts you can visit by iron horse. We usually think of driving or flying to a destination, but don’t forget the Choo! Choo!… It could be a fun twist to add to your season.

5 thoughts on “Choo! Choo! Your Way To The Slopes

  1. Amtrak to Whitefish is incredible. The Amtrak Depot is right there in downtown Whitefish. The infamous “Snowbus” is a free service (they accept donations of course) that will shuttle you and yours from Whitefish to the ski mountain. Everything you need is a walk away in Whitefish Montana. Looking forward to going again next month.

    1. One of my most memorable vacations as a kid was a train ride from Chicago to Idaho for a ski trip. I’m actually wanting to plan one in the next couple of years with the young kids.

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